A British Army Colonel has said people in the Armed Forces should be able to serve beyond 55 years old as he takes up a new post as the voice for veterans in Scotland.
Colonel Charles (Charlie) Wallace, former Deputy Commander of 51 Brigade & Army HQ Scotland, has spoken of the need for a balance in the military between maintaining the physical demands of military life while ensuring the services did not lose intellectual experience among longer serving personnel.
He was speaking after taking over from Eric Fraser as Scottish Veterans Commissioner, an ambassador for all veterans in Scotland.
He said the rules over retirement age had been changing to reflect a society that was now living longer, with people remaining active into a much older age than previous generations, and he said he supported moves to allow people to be able to serve until they are aged 60 to reflect society and ensure valuable experience remains within the forces.
Colonel Wallace, speaking to broadcaster Mark McKenzie at the Forces Radio BFBS Scotland studio in Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh, told of his own transition to civilian life after reaching his mid-Fifties following 35 years of service.
Independent from the Scottish Government in his new role, he gives impartial advice on how to improve support for the veterans community to both the government and other public sector organisations.
He said: “I have to say I wasn’t sure I was going to do 35 years but what was offered to me kept me in for that 35 years.
"But I do think I’m probably a minority.
"Most people will leave well inside 35 years and so the transition for them is going to be different than it was for me.
“I had the lucky privilege of being able to work out, knowing that I had got an end date, that I could therefore have to prepare for my time when I became a civilian, so that process has lasted for three / four years, leading up to the moment that I left, and of course now continuing now that I’m in civvy street.
“I was looking around. I knew that I was going to have to leave the Army at the back end of 2018 because I had reached my 55th birthday, that’s it, time up, so I knew I had to look for a job.
“I knew I had to work out what I was going to do when I left.
“This particular post with the veterans commissioner gives me an enormous opportunity to have a positive effect, I hope for our veterans, with the Scottish Government.”
He said he believed personnel should be able to serve in the Armed Forces for longer than 55 years, especially as society lives longer, and he said the rules are changing and people should be able to serve until they are 60.
However, he said the Armed Forces had to take a balanced view as being in the military was a very physical activity and very demanding role.
“How much demand can you place on someone who is in their late 50s?
"There's a balance to be had, so it's about intellectual capacity and experience versus physical capability and if you get the balance right then you succeed and if you don't then you either break people or you're chucking people out too early."
Col Wallace's 35 years’ service included various command appointments on operations and at home.
He saw active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the UN in the Former Yugoslavia, and in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner. He also served in Brunei, Hong Kong, Nepal, the Falkland Islands, most of Northern Europe, the USA, Canada and India.
Col Wallace recognises that he was lucky to have so many years to prepare for his return to civvy street. He is concerned for those who have served a shorter amount of time because there's sometimes less time to prepare for life outside of the Armed Forces.
"I think what the military should be doing is concentrating more on preparing their people to leave and actually shouldn't be afraid to talk about that.
"They shouldn't be afraid to consider the issues that are going to be facing somebody who has been well looked after, in relevant terms, working in a very isolated environment and then suddenly being booted out the door and they've got to fend for themselves.
"That's not right so I would like to see the military doing more about that."
Charlie was the chief planner in HQ Multi-National Division (South East) in Basra, Iraq and held the same role for a year in HQ Regional Command (South West) in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province for which he was awarded the US Bronze Star.
"There are hundred's of stories of service people who have left the services and have been hugely successful in what ever walk of life they've gone into, and we mustn't forget that."
Col Wallace took over from Eric Fraser who wrote four comprehensive reports on various aspects of life for veterans in Scotland.
"The first thing I'm doing right now is taking a review of all those recommendations and exactly what has the Scottish Government done to address some of those issues that he has raised."
In his role as Scottish Veterans Commissioner Col Wallace is meeting the veterans he represents so what is he discovering? He said:
"There is actually a very positive view that I'm getting from the community itself so far, admittedly I haven't been everywhere yet so I'm sure there will be some where things aren't working quite so right and I'm looking forward to finding out about that."
Col Wallace is also interested in how the Scottish Government is behaving towards the veteran community.
Graeme Dey MSP was appointed Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans in June 2018 and in Col Wallace's opinion has made a concerted effort to ensure that ministers in health, housing, jobs and skills are actively engaged in supporting the veterans community.